The Israeli Palestinian conflict is a vastly complex and intricate issue that is rooted in a deep-seated mutual distrust of each side towards the other based on their differing respective narratives. The conflict stems from the fundamental belief held by each side that they alone are entitled to and have the undeniable right to reside in the same land that is defined by Jews as Israel and by Palestinians as Palestine. However, this conflict cannot simply be explained by the wrong doing of one side against the other or even the very different narratives that attempt to explain a collective history.
It is the unfortunate result of a convergence of intentional action, unfortunate occurrences and most importantly evasive outside intervention. However, when analyzing a complex conflict such as this it is important to determine how the occurrences defined within a specific theme add credence to its explanation. Therefore, a very significant theme that underlies many of the complexities of this issue is the idea that woven completely throughout this conflict is the influence of the Western world on its many facets and idiosyncrasies.
The West has had a vast and wide ranging history of interference and intervention in the Middle East over the last two hundred years. Whether it is through the form of Western ideals that bolstered and spurred the formation of the Zionist movement or Western direct intervention in Palestine in the early part of the 20 century, the West and its policies have been inextricably linked to the various occurrences and outcomes that define the region and the conflict today. In fact it is much deeper than even that.
It is possible to say that Israel and the Zionist movement that brought about its creation serve as symbols to the Palestinians of the Western colonialist era and Western failed or ill advised intervention in the region as a whole. In fact the creation of the Zionist movement can be directly attributed to the influence of the Western European enlightenment and revolutionary movements. The West has certainly played a major role in setting the stage for the creation of the Jewish state and at the same time given the Arabs and Palestinians reason to be upset.
The Jews of pre-enlightenment Europe, according to Smith, were a Lateral Ethnie which is a group of individuals with a common culture, collective identity and set of traditions based on a view of “common descent and belonging” (Smith, 1989, p. 346). This lifestyle encompasses the religious aspects of Jews at the time who were bonded by a tight knit “community of fate”(Smith, 1989, p. 356) that believed one day God would return them to Zion. At this time they were content with the religiously associated view that it would be God’s will that determined when and how they would be returned to the land of Israel.
During the 2000 year time period of the Diaspora the Jews experienced harsh oppression and persecution at the hands of Christian Aristocratic governments that attempted to impose their will and views on the lesser and weaker minorities. This oppression forced the Jews to seclude themselves within their small Jewish enclaves because according to Avineri, in a Christian or Muslim society “a person who did not believe in Christ could not hold public office, could not exercise authority over Christians, could not enter into a feudal bond and hence could not possess land”(Avineri, 1981, p. 7).
Jews were willing to accept and deal with this oppressive and unfair system that, according to Avineri, was based on an “unequal equilibrium” because the alternative was death. Still, Jews stuck with the belief that it was the will of God that would determine their return to the homeland in Zion. Therefore, what was it that changed in the 19th and 20th centuries that spurred the creation of the Zionist movement and the push for an actualized and effortful attempt to return to Israel? The answer to this question lies in the influence of the Western world through the European Revolution.
During this time European societies were moving away from discriminatory norms toward forms of government that espoused equality and liberty for all. According to Avineri, upon viewing the emerging policies of the time, “it becomes dramatically evident that economically, socially, politically, and intellectually, this was the most revolutionary century in history for the Jews” (Avineri, 1981, p. 5). The experience of attaining these new freedoms altered the identities of Europeans and Jews alike. However, though these freedoms were significant, in no way did this mean that everything was now much better for the Jews.
Much to the contrary Anti-Semitism was still fully alive and remained pervasive throughout European societies. If the Revolution did anything for the Jews it gave them perspective on just how deep the discrimination spanned within European societies. In fact, though Jews were now allowed to be members of European societies, according to Khazzoom they were simultaneously expected to reduce their apparent Jewishness “by shedding their “backward” traditions, dismantling their separate communal infrastructures, and moving forward into “modernity”” (Khazzoom 2003, p. 489).
The amazing thing was that many Jews actually felt that the positives outweighed the negatives and elected to begin Westernizing themselves. In fact Jews were discriminated against for being too Eastern or not Western enough. During this time Jews began to lose their anonymity and as a result “they placed the legitimate judges of Jewish acceptability outside the Jewish world” (Khazzoom, 2003, p. 492). It therefore became less of a necessity not to create a religion “that Jews liked than it was to produce a Judaism that the Christians could tolerate” (Khazzoom, 2003, p. 492).
Through these forms of assimilation Jews began to take on the notion that being Westernized is superior to being Eastern. Khazzoom uses the example that Western European Jews began discriminating against Eastern European Jews whose lifestyles were more reflective of Eastern values. This discrimination of Eastern Jews by Western Jews was a widespread phenomenon never before witnessed prior to the Enlightenment. While at the same time it was becoming ever more real that Western values were worth adopting, life in the Western world was still becoming ever more difficult for Jews.
With this new revitalized sense of Jewish identity that Western revolution provided gave fervor and commitment to the Jews’ aspirations to take a great leap toward formulating the diagnosis for the Jewish Question. However, if Westernized Jews were willing to berate their own brethren for being too Eastern how would they respond to foreign inhabitants of an Eastern land? It is no wonder that the Palestinians are distrustful of the West upon witnessing the formulation of the Zionist movement and experiencing the evidence that the Western world considered itself superior to the Eastern on many levels.
Why wouldn’t they be affronted and weary when the leader of the Zionist movement Theodore Hertzl was making claims at the time that directly showed his belief that “the Jewish project and the European project were one and the same” (Khazzoom, 2003, p. 499). There is no question that Zionism was a movement that was designed to create a Jewish National Homeland in the land of both the Palestinians and Israelis. Ayoob explains it appropriately that Zionists were responsible for “settling European Jews in Palestine”, and “defining the Jewish state in Israel” (Ayoob, 2004, P. 0). Ayoob speaks directly to this idea that the deep underlying point of contention for many Palestinians is “the Muslim’s collective memory of subjugation” which serves to perpetuate a general “perception of weakness of the [Palestinians] in relation to the West” (Ayoob, 2004, p. 11). It is well considered and understood that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict today can also be appropriately described as an Arab/Israeli conflict or that Arabs in general played a significantly larger role and have for some time.
The deep-seated claim stretches beyond even just a Palestinian/Israeli conflict into one between Arab’s and Israeli’s where “Muslim’s believe that all Muslim’s are potential “Palestinians”, pretty much at the mercy of Western foreign policy. Western foreign policy that is littered with particularly significant gaffs’ with regard to their dealings with Palestinians and Arabs. Take, for example, the Mcmahon Husyn Correspondence where land was promised to the Arabs if they agreed to revolt against Ottoman rule in the Hijaz in return for sovereignty after the Ottoman’s were defeated.
However, according to Goldschmidt and Davidson, instead Heartache and dissention were bestowed upon the Arabs once the war was over as Western powers set up “mandates” “which were little more than colonies in disguise” or land allotments agreed upon secretly and devised in order to benefit the great Western powers (Goldschmidt & Davidson p. 39). The British Mandate was also a significant Western foreign policy plan that guaranteed Israel the right to a land for a people for a people without land in Palestine.
Overall it is easy to see why the Palestinians would have a general feeling of contempt and distrust towards the Western powers of the world. The Zionist movement clearly was influenced by the immense revolutions occurring, though liberating, were often racist and called for Jews to assimilate in order to be less Jewish. There is sufficient evidence to infer that the Jews learned from some of these practices and carried them over into their dealings with Palestinians. At the same time the foreign policy gaffs on the part of the Western powers certainly did not help to change the minds of the
Palestinians or Arabs. However it is important to say that although it may appear from the arguments addressed in this paper that the Western world is completely to blame throughout the expanses of the entire conflict, this is not the case. This paper was directly meant to define why Palestinians and Arab’s alike have a legitimate reason to be upset with the policies of the powers of the West. There is certainly a completely different narrative on each side that has seen the same events, but drawn completely opposite conclusions.